Courtesy of the Texas Department of Agriculture, Austin, Texas
Jane Padgitt (the great granddaughter of Mabel Doss
Day), her husband Randy, and their children are the current
managers of the Padgitt Ranch. Neither were reared
as ranchers, though Jane spent summers on the ranch
with her father. She grew up in San Antonio, part of the
social strata that was built from ranching success. There
are mavericks in her family, a veritable who's who of
Texas ranching entrepreneurs. Jane escaped her coming
out in San Antonio society to Boerne, where she mastered
ceramics, and met her husband-to-be. Randy, a
town kid from Lubbock, proved his skill at small-scale
gardening, but had little experience with cattle or sheep
or horses. When Jane's parents retired from active management,
they took over the ranch and have proved
themselves to be tough-minded and capable managers, in
the tradition of the cattle queen herself.
coupled with highland ridges close to the river give the
ranch an integrity, a sense of place, and a diverse set of
conditions that helps balance out the extremes of flood or
drought. It's for these same reasons that engineers and
managers of the Upper Colorado River Municipal Water
District have their eyes on the area. It's probably the best
spot left to build a reservoir to pool water for Midland
and Odessa. Its construction would cut the heart out of
the Padgitt Ranch. The outcome of a lawsuit pending in
the State Supreme Court will decide who owns the water
that the district seeks, but in the meantime there are conflicting
visions for the best use of this land.
The death of one ranch is never the end of an entire tradition,
but this instance of the Padgitt Ranch is a metaphor
for transition in ranching heritage. Urban pressures
dominate the state political interest now in a way that
wasn't possible a hundred years ago. The needs of the
country and the needs of the city are at odds with each
other, and the country is quickly becoming absorbed.
Urban sprawl and high-tech development have shortened
the distance between population centers, and attention to
ranching life is becoming more a matter of commemoration
than of preservation.
As grass is to the land, preservation of our heritage is to
the character of a culture. It's not a matter of holding
back the clock or denying change. Rather, it's choosing
those courses that will sustain the land and the people.
Not for ten years, or a generation, but for an infinite
series of generations. Every successful rancher knows
how to do this, because success is measured in endurance.
Money is a fickle indicator of success. Some
years a rancher may not be able to pay his bills; but
the land is still there, and if taken care of, will see
him through to the next. Through it all is the pervading
sense of being part of a continuing, continually adapting
heritage, that absorbs change and transforms it into
John Peterson is a writer and photographer, who has a
wide range of publication credits. He is currently a
graduate student in the Anthropology Department at The
University of Texas at Austin, and is editing an historical
manuscript to be published by U. T. Press in the fall
of 1985. Mr. Peterson is the recipient of the Swenson
Fellowship at the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin.
The history of any particular ranch is quelled from many
patches of events and ownership, and from changing
conditions that permit growth or division of the boundaries.
But in the mind of any rancher, the land is a unit, a
wholeness, within which the cycles of fallow and multiple
use flow through the years. The Padgitt Ranch is
smaller now than in Mabel Doss Day's time, but is still
vast by anyone's reckoning. And Jane and Randy cling to
the vision of keeping it whole. In these current years of
drought and depressed prices, it's impossible for sheep
and cattle alone to sustain the economy of the ranch.
While they've dedicated themselves to good breeding
practices and reseeding of native grasses, other uses,
other cash crops invite diversification. Most will require
water and the exercise of their water rights from the
Colorado River. But ranging over all their efforts is the
demand for the water by urban growth both up and
It's no accident that William Day selected lands in these
great bends of the Colorado. The broad fertile alluvium
Courtesy of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Circa 1940
Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45447/. Accessed April 19, 2014.